Changes to the immigration rules for overseas students and a new £4 million fund to foster Anglo-Sino university links were announced this week by Chancellor Gordon Brown in a move to "boost higher education exports".
Mr Brown revealed in the pre-Budget report that £2 million would be spent by the Government in each of the next two years on Anglo-Sino scholarships. These would encourage collaboration between "centres of excellence in science and technology" in the two countries and exchanges between UK academics and their Chinese counterparts.
A further £1.3 million in each of the next two years will be spent by the Government on the "marketing and promotion" of UK universities in countries outside the European Union.
In a move to ease concern about the impact of the Immigration and Asylum Bill on overseas recruitment, Mr Brown announced changes to the visa system. In future, international students who complete a postgraduate course or an undergraduate degree in a shortage subject, such as maths, will be able to work in the UK after completing their course for up to 12 months. The Treasury said the change would benefit up to 50,000 students.
Universities UK said: "We are pleased that the Government recognises the importance of the international activities of UK higher education to our wider society, the economy and to the academic community."
While welcoming the Chancellor's plans, Pam Tatlow, chief executive of Campaigning for Mainstream Universities, said: "The UK-China University Partnership Scheme is important although its scope should be extended beyond science and technology.
"The proposal that international students who are qualified in shortage areas will be allowed to work in the UK for up to 12 months will go some way to matching the 'Fresh Talent' initiative in Scotland, which has proved very successful in attracting international students."
Dominic Scott, chief executive of Ukcosa, the council for international education, described the new employment entitlements for overseas students as "an early Christmas present from the Chancellor" and "the most significant move since the first Prime Minister's Initiative to attract more international students to the UK".
But Stephen O'Brien, Shadow Higher Education Spokesman, questioned whether the Government had committed sufficient funds to the Anglo-Sino project and to promoting UK universities overseas. Its investment has yet to be matched by funding from the Chinese authorities.
"It has to be a step in the right direction to address the serious problem in our competitiveness relative to the rapidly emerging challenge from China, but this is no more than the Chancellor nodding at the problem," he said.
Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, said: "These measures send out a powerful message that the UK is open and welcoming to overseas students."